NEW YORK -- Jake Arrieta looked human again on a night when the Cubs needed a superhuman effort.
Daniel Murphy continued his red-hot run, hitting a key two-run homer in the first, to spark the Mets to a 4-1 victory Sunday night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. New York leads the best-of-seven series, 2-0.
The Cubs had every reason to believe they'd be heading back to Wrigley Field with a split of the first two games with their 22-game winner on the mound. Chicago had won 11 of 14 games this season when the right-hander took the ball after a Cubs loss. He was 14-1 on the road, including his complete-game victory over the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser
But he hasn't been the same since that game in Pittsburgh.
In his last 12 regular-season starts, Arrieta gave up seven runs, four earned. In two postseason outings, he's served up eight runs over 10 2/3 innings.
If the radar gun at Citi Field was correct, Arrieta's velocity was down, which could be a sign of fatigue. He has totaled more innings and more starts than ever in his career. Cubs manager Joe Maddon couldn't deny that the workload could be a factor.
"If you ask him, he'll tell you 'No,'" Maddon said. "In the game, if that gun was correct on the field, he might have been down a mile an hour or two, that's what I saw. Overall, and when that happens, the breaker, the commitment to the breaking ball is not as definite from the hitter's perspective because they're able to see everything better."
Maddon didn't see Arrieta laboring. The pitches simply weren't as crisp. Arrieta has spoiled everyone with his stellar second half. The last time he trailed by three runs in a game was July 25 when he last lost to the Phillies and Cole Hamels, who threw a no-hitter. The Cubs ace had not given up three runs in the first since July 30, 2010, which was 123 starts ago.
"Physically, I felt fine," Arrieta said. "I knew the high-end velo wasn't necessarily there tonight. I threw quite a few changeups to kind of offset that. Really, the biggest part of the night was the two-run homer. Murphy hit a pretty good pitch. The mistake to him was the turning point in the game. From there, we weren't able to get anything going."
Is Arrieta surprised by his last two outings?
"I didn't pitch well, so yeah," he said.
At least Arrieta is in elite company. Murphy has homered off Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Jon Lester and Arrieta in the postseason. When Murphy came up in the third with one on and one out, the Cubs intentionally walked him.
"The weather conditions were insane," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said of the 45-degree temperature at game time. "His velo hasn't been the same, as well. At the end of the day, you have to make pitches regardless. I feel we made a couple mistakes. Even the homer Murphy hit was a good pitch -- I thought it was down."
Montero said they didn't want to change the game plan too much. It still came down to executing pitches.
"When you don't have 96, 97 [mph] that we're used to seeing, it's hard to get away with the bad pitches," Montero said. "When you have velo, you might get away with a fastball in the middle. He gave up three runs and then he settled in."
Arrieta is the fittest pitcher on the Cubs, and could probably compete in a triathlon on his off-days.
"I don't want to say he's tired, because he's in really good shape," Montero said. "But he's human. He can get tired. He never threw this many innings in his life in his career. I don't want to make any excuses because I don't know how he felt. That could be one of the cases, or maybe the weather. Maybe he couldn't get loose. You should ask him."